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UT News

Headliners: In Defense of Telecommuting

Sociologist Jennifer Glass opines about telecommuting in the New York Times, Robert Chesney weighs in about drones, and more UT faculty share their expertise with the media. Read more.

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Researchers, scholars and experts from The University of Texas at Austin are sought by news outlets every week for their knowledge, expertise and insights. Here’s a selection of recent media hits.

dog in front of computer desk in home office

“Hey, Look at Me!” Photo courtesy wrumsby, via Flickr Creative Commons.

It’s About the Work, Not the Office
The New York Times

Jennifer Glass, Department of Sociology, College of Liberal Arts

Op-ed contributor and professor of sociology, Jennifer Glass, wrote in defense of telecommuting. Marissa Mayer, the chief executive of Yahoo!, recently eliminated telecommuting for all 14,000 workers. Glass says she remains skeptical that “workers on-site are more innovative that those who work from home.” She writes:

Professor Jennifer Glass

Jennifer Glass 

Ms. Mayer could have insisted on core work hours or days for all employees, when everyone works on-site. Or Yahoo could have developed collaborative work spaces off-site, closer to the neighborhoods where telecommuting employees live, to provide them with opportunities to connect to others doing similar work. Large screens to Skype in telecommuting team members for daily or weekly meetings could be a routine part of every group space. Above all, managers could focus on a results-oriented system of evaluation for all employees, telecommuting or not. This sends the message that outcomes are more important than location or hours on the job.

If the Dilbertization of Yahoo actually improves innovation, I’ll change my tune. But companies like Yahoo will not get more out of their employees by watching them like hawks and monitoring their every move. Nor can they recreate the dynamism of their founding moment by trying to return to a perpetual organizational adolescence. The 37-year-old Ms. Mayer, new mother, may have yet to learn that.

Read the entire op-ed.

Related item:

Longer Days for Telecommuters

Venezuela Petro-allies Nervous Over Chavez’s Death
Associated Press

Jorge Pinon, Jackson School of Geosciences

Jorge Pinon

Jorge Pinon 

Jorge Pinon, an energy analyst for the Jackson School of Geosciences, estimates Cuba receives about 92,000 barrels of Venezuelan oil each to day to meet just half of its consumption needs. Pinon estimates the oil barter exchange is worth about $3.2 billion a year. Cubans fear the exchange could end under a new regime. Under the current exchange, Cuba pays half of its barter with tens of thousands of doctors, teachers and other advisers who provide services to Venezuela. “There’s no cash exchange. They don’t have to write a check. That’s the importance of this agreement,” Pinon said. “It represents $3.2 billion of free cash flow to the Cuban economy.”

Read the entire article to find out what it would mean if a new Venezuelan government turned the current agreement into a “true commercial agreement.”

Natural Gas Field

Natural-gas field in Texas. Watch the video. 

Gas Boom Projected to Grow for Decades
The Wall Street Journal

Russell Gold, Wall Street Journal reporter, writes that new research from the Bureau of Economic Geology predicts the U.S. natural-gas production will accelerate over the next 30 years. The study integrates engineering, geology and economics in a numerical model that allows for scenario testing based on many input parameters. In the base case, the study forecasts a cumulative 44 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of recoverable reserves from the Barnett, with annual production declining in a predictable curve from the current peak of 2 TCF per year to about 900 billion cubic feet (BCF) per year by 2030.

Read more of Gold’s article on this latest findings. (WSJ account required)

Report Faults Priorities in Studying Breast Cancer
The New York Times

Michele Forman, Department of Nutritional Sciences, College of Natural Sciences

Michele Forman

Michele Forman 

The New York Times wrote about a report that examined breast cancer research and found that too little federal government spending on breast cancer research goes toward finding environmental causes. The report, “Breast Cancer and the Environment Prioritizing Prevention,” was the work of a committee of 23 scientists, government officials and patient advocates established by Congress to consider the cancer research. The committee’s findings focus on environmental factors that may contribute to breast cancer, including “behaviors, like alcohol intake and exercise; exposures to chemicals like pesticides, industrial pollutants, consumer products and drugs; radiation; and social and socioeconomic factors.”

Michele Forman, co-chairwoman of the committee and professor of nutritional sciences, said the “group found that breast cancer research at various government agencies was not well coordinated and that it was difficult to determine whether there was duplication of efforts.” Here’s an excerpt:

[Dr. Forman] said that it was essential to study how environmental exposures at different times of life affected breast-cancer risk, and that certain animals were good models for human breast cancer and should be used more.

The report is the result of the Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Act, which was passed in 2008 and required the secretary of health and human services to create a committee to study breast cancer research. A third of the members were scientists, a third were from government and a third were from advocacy groups. The advocates, Dr. Forman said, brought a sense of urgency to the group

“People who are not survivors need to have that urgency there,” she said.

Pointing to the vaccine now being offered to girls to prevent cervical cancer, Dr. Forman said, “I look forward to the day when we have an early preventive strategy for breast cancer.”

Read more about the report.

Having a Tony Stark at the Office is Fine as Long as You Hire a Pepper Potts

Jennifer Whitson, Department of Management, McCombs School of Business

Professor Jennifer Whitson

Jennifer Whitson 

In a new study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Jennifer Whitson, lead author and professor of management at the McCombs School of Business, found that powerful people tend to be less likely to see constraints while pursuing their goals. The study also found that low-power counterparts were more aware of risks pursuing goals. Study co-author Katie Liljenquist, a professor at Brigham Young University, says, “In business settings you need both. You need the people with that unfettered confidence and optimism and the willingness to take big risks, but you need those low-power individuals who say, ‘Hey wait a second. Let’s identify the pitfalls.'” Here’s an excerpt from the story in ScienceBlog:

Donald Trump is a perfect example of a leader whose confidence guides business decisions. During the first season of his reality show, The Apprentice, Trump offered the winner a chance to manage the construction of the Trump Tower in Chicago even though the tower hadn’t been fully approved yet.

“Trump didn’t even have clearance to build that tower yet,” says study lead author Jennifer Whitson. “It was that incredible confidence. He didn’t have all his ducks in a row yet, but he acted and it worked out for him.”

Liljenquist said that failure to consider constraints can carry weighty repercussions such as the housing market crises and bank failures of 2008 that caused the worst economic recession since the 1920s.

Read more about the study’s findings.

Darpa Wants You to Transcribe, and Instantly Recall, All of Your Communications

Matt Lease, Department of Computer Science, College of Natural Sciences and School of Information

Professor Matt Lease

Matt Lease 

Computer scientist Matt Lease has studied crowdsourcing for years. Wired magazine’s Robert Beckhusen visited Lease in his Austin office to discuss the Pentagon’s latest project analyzing speech with machines. The Darpa project “wants to make systems so accurate, you’ll be able to easily record, transcribe and recall the conversations you ever have.” Darpa has awarded Lease $300,000 to study a new project that would record and transcribe every conversation. Beckhusen writes:

The idea is that business meetings or even conversations with your friends and family could be stored in archives and easily searched. The stored recordings could be held in servers, owned either by individuals or their employers. Lease is still playing with the idea one with huge implications for how we interact.

There are still many technology barriers, but Lease thinks a crowdsourcing model is one way to overcome costly human transcribers and the less-than-perfect transcribing tools currently available.

Read the full article to learn more about Lease’s thoughts for Darpa.

Debating a Court to Vet Drone Strikes
The New York Times

Robert M. Chesney, School of Law

Robert M Chesney

Robert Chesney 

For decades, a secret court in Washington, D.C. has approved national security eavesdropping on American soil. Now, there is interest in a court that may rule on the targeted killing of suspected terrorists, or at least American suspects. “We’ve gone from people scoffing at this to it becoming a fit subject for polite conversation,” Robert M. Chesney told The New York Times. Chesney added, a kill list at least for American citizens abroad “is no longer beyond the realm of political possibility.” Here’s an excerpt from the story:

A drone court would face constitutional, political and practical obstacles, and might well prove unworkable, according to several legal scholars and terrorism experts. But with the war in Afghanistan winding down, Al Qaeda fragmenting into hard-to-read offshoots and the 2001 terrorist attacks receding into the past, they said, it is time to consider how to forge a new, trustworthy and transparent system to govern lethal counterterrorism operations.

“People in Washington need to wake up and realize the legal foundations are crumbling by the day,” Mr. Chesney said. That realization seemed evident at Thursday’s confirmation hearing for John O. Brennan as C.I.A. director, which became a raucous forum for complaints about the expansion of counterterrorist strikes and the procedures for deciding who should die.

Read more about the debate.